Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 29, 2007
Hollywood films treat abortion with kid gloves
New movie shows woman's decision against abortion
The movie Bella depicts a pregnant restaurant waitress deciding not to have an abortion.
By MARK PATTISON
Catholic News Service
The treatment of abortion themes in movies may seem to some skewed against a pro-life viewpoint - if they're presented at all - but the issue is much rarer in films than many might think.
Forty years ago "the Production Code forbade touching abortion in Hollywood movies," said Henry Herx, retired director of the U.S. bishops' Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Also known as the Hays Code and put in place in 1930, it regulated all manner of content.
"It's all changed since 1968 with the dropping of the Production Code," he said, and the institution of a ratings system by the Motion Picture Association of America that didn't evaluate content until after it was committed to celluloid.
But even so, the abortion issue is still approached "with great trepidation" by filmmakers, said Harry Forbes, the current director of the film and broadcasting office.
"For all of the liberalness of Hollywood - the reported liberalness of Hollywood - when it comes to depicting that sort of thing on screen, the filmmakers are very, very careful not to offend," he said.
"I almost can't think of an instance where a character has had an abortion in the film and the script has let her get off lightly for whatever reason," Forbes said. "So I think it's still somewhat taboo, and, hopefully, will remain so."
'The wrong thing'
"In recent times," Forbes said, "probably the benchmark for abortion movies was Vera Drake, which was about a middle-class English housewife who performs abortions on the side unbeknownst to her husband and children, and she believes she's doing these girls who are 'in trouble' a good turn.
"What was interesting about the film was you could walk away from it feeling - feeling rightly - that what she was doing was very wrong," he said.
Thomas Grenchik, executive director of the pro-life secretariat, spoke about the new movie Bella, in which a pregnant woman contemplates an abortion but ultimately decides against it.
"It's not a happy, made-up ending," Grenchik said. "It's not kind of a Disney-type ending but more of a real-life ending."
In Bella, which opens at cinemas Oct. 26, an unwed restaurant waitress gets fired from her job the morning she confirms she's pregnant, only to have the restaurant's best cook abandon his own duties and hang out with her throughout the day in a subtle attempt to persuade her to not have an abortion.
Despite being "sometimes dramatically slack and implausible, and rather overly pat in its plot resolutions," Bella has "an affirmative pro-life message, along with themes of self-forgiveness, reconciliation and redemption that should resonate deeply with Catholic viewers," Forbes said in his review.
His office gave Bella a classification of A-II - adults and adolescents.
On the other hand, the 2004 film Vera Drake received a classification of L - limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling.
It did, however, get nominated for three Oscars and won a slew of awards in Britain, where the picture was set. Another film with abortion as a central theme, 1999's The Cider House Rules, won two Oscars.
"Given the unfortunate prevalence of abortion in real life, I think filmmakers still treat it with great trepidation. I don't think abortion is ever shown to be a good thing or even a casual thing," Forbes said. "I don't think filmmakers give abortion a pass."